LOS ANGELES — Ryan Potter has always had a desire to fly. He believes the reason a lot of his dreams are him soaring through the skies has to do with the animation he watched — such as Hayao Miyazaki’s “Castle in the Sky” — while growing up in Tokyo.
Now he has the chance to spark similar dreams in others as Potter reprises his voice work as Hiro Hamada from the 2014 feature film “Big Hero 6” for the new animated special cable presentation, “Big Hero 6: Baymax Returns,” that aired Nov. 20 on Disney XD and Disney Channel, will serve as the launch. The two-part program will serve as the starting point for a series launching in 2018.
“Being able to watch my character in ‘Big Hero 6’ fly on screen is a full-circle moment for me,” Potter says. “I think ‘Castle in the Sky’ is one of my favorite films because 15 years later I am still having such an emotional and visceral response.”
The flying his character will be doing is over the fictional city of San Fransokyo as “Baymax Returns” picks up immediately following events in the film. Hiro is trying to deal with the fact the compassionate, cutting-edge robot Baymax that his brother created is lost forever. That changes when he discovers the chip his brother Tadashi designed to create Baymax and uses that to rebuild the robot.
Along with Potter, reprising their roles from the feature film are Maya Rudolph as Aunt Cass, Scott Adsit as Baymax, Jamie Chung as Go Go, Alan Tudyk as Alistair Krei, Genesis Rodriguez as Honey Lemon, David Shaughnessy as Heathcliff and Stan Lee as Fred’s dad. Also joining the main voice cast are Khary Payton as Wasabi and Brooks Wheelan as Fred.
Executive producers Mark McCorkle, Bob Schooley and Nick Filippi, the team behind the Emmy Award-winning Disney Channel series “Kim Possible,” have been working on bringing the series to TV for three years. Their approach is to look at how in the original film Hiro was headed down the wrong path and now he has a chance to redeem himself.
“Big Hero 6” took in more than $650 million at the box office around the globe. Potter’s theory on what it was about the movie that struck such a nerve is that it is a story of friendship, of redemption and a very offbeat version of a boy-and-his-dog tale.
“Ultimately, the project is colorblind, and I think THAT is why it did so well,” Potter says. “There’s no mention on ethnicity, color, height, age. Everybody is who they are and they are just accepted for that. There are never any moments of bringing up physical traits. We will talk about people’s behavior but there is no one discussing anyone’s personal appearance.
“I think that is really important for kids to grow up watching that kind of content. It kind of paints a picture that there is a future out there where there will be no borders or boundaries.”
This broad look at the world comes from Potter’s past, as the Portland native was raised in Japan until he was 7, becoming fluent in both Japanese and English. He began studying kung fu when he was 8, an interest that would come in handy when he made the move into acting. When he was 15, Potter auditioned for the new Nickelodeon martial-arts themed series “Super Ninjas.” Since landing that series, Potter has worked in an assortment of TV shows and films, including being cast as Beast boy in a live-action series in 2018 based on the Teen Titans comic books.
As odd as it may sound, the martial arts background also comes in handy when Potter does the recording sessions. It takes a lot of stamina to be able to stand behind the microphone and deliver lines with the kind of energy Hiro showed in the movie and now in the new projects.
“After the recording session for the movie, I would go home and go to sleep right away,” Potter says. “The episodes aren’t as physically draining but we still go through a whole range of emotions. When you push yourself to the limit then you can see just how far you are able to go and it becomes easier and easier and easier.
“That is something we do in martial arts constantly. I haven’t been doing a lot of martial arts training lately but working on this series has almost become my new training. I have had to take the craft of acting just as seriously as I did with martial arts when I was growing up.”
Recording sessions are draining, but animation work is Potter’s favorite because of the freedom he gets by just focusing on his voice to bring the character to life. He’s particularly happy when he’s voicing a scene where Hiro and Baymax are sailing through the air.
Immediately following the TV movie, a series of shorts showing different pairings of the characters will roll out every Friday for six consecutive weeks on Disney XD, the DisneyNOW app and Disney XD YouTube leading up to the 2018 series.